Three Ways to Engage Your Business Audience

(746 words)

Every person in the theater knows that an audience must immediately become engaged with the action on stage, in order for a production to be successful.  As a business speaker, you can captivate your listeners by taking the same approach and applying three simple strategies at the beginning of your business presentation.

Maintain good eye contact:

Eye contact really means eyeball to eyeball: not looking at foreheads or to the tops of heads or looking in the general direction of individuals.  Look at people within audience sections:  for example, focus on individuals on the left side of the audience, then the right, then the center – or in any order you choose.  Be sure to “pan” the whole audience and remember to include people seated in the back rows.  Depending upon the size of your audience and venue, it may be challenging to make eye contact with people who are furthest away from you, but seek out as many eyes as possible.

Contrary to common fears, maintaining good eye contact actually helps relax you as a speaker.  Seeing people’s eyes will remind you that the audience is, after all, made up of regular people just like you and that they want you to succeed! They are usually hopeful and expectant; they want to believe that they have made a good choice by attending your presentation.

Make Audience Members the Stars of Your Show!

Involve your audience by asking questions and/or inviting individuals to do something in front of the group.

When you pose questions to your audience, people invariably answer them.  This makes the responders a part of the presentation, and they love it.  Ask questions that you know audience members can answer, and be sure that everything you ask is directly related to the purpose and main idea of your talk.

For pure engagement and entertainment value, nothing beats demonstrations by your audience members.  Create simple tasks or exercises for individuals or pairs that will illustrate your points.  Ask for volunteers to come to the speaking area.  If people seem shy at first and no one immediately comes forward, wait!  Have the courage to tolerate silence or hesitation from the audience.  During the silence, make strong eye contact with a broad smile and wait with a demeanor that suggests “You’re in for a fun time!”  Audiences always include at least a few individuals who enjoy being the center of attention!

The people who remain seated and watch will soon become captivated.  This is theater:  the drama of watching a situation unfold in the moment, when anything can happen.  It is compelling and irresistible because of its immediacy and spontaneity.

Use a conversational tone, vary your pace, and be sure that conviction and passion are visible on your body and audible in your voice:

Most listeners respond favorably when a speaker possesses authenticity, gratitude, and humility.  A conversational tone helps you project these qualities; it lets your audience know that you are approaching them as an expert who is an equal, not as a professor or pontificator.  It engages them.

Speak as you would during a two-person conversation, with the slight adjustment of heightened energy.  Take the attitude that you are pleased to be sharing an important secret with your audience; that you are speaking confidentially to each individual listener.  Vary your pace, to generate interest and convey enthusiasm.  Take time to allow you thoughts to “land”, and occasionally pause for dramatic effect at moments that will surprise your listeners.

Audiotape your rehearsals; when you play back the tape, take special note of the moments when you sounded most authentic, most conversational:  moments when your voice and your “soul” were “one”.  This is when your voice projects the true you.  Analyze what you were doing that caused that authentic sound, and strive to replicate your action in that moment, instead of your sound in that moment.  Sound is the result of action: you can achieve an effective, authentic sound by doing something truthfully and with commitment:  pursuing an appropriate objective, for example.  The degree of conviction and passion in your voice and gestures is within your control.  Gestures and body language should match the intensity of your voice, as well as your content.

When you involve your audience in these three ways, you will set the stage for your audience to bond deeply with you.  Like a “hit show” on Broadway, this is true engagement.

Copyright © 2013-2015 Maria Guida

Maria Guida  is an executive speaking coach/trainer, professional speaker, and Broadway actress.  With her experience on stage, TV and film (working with Paul Newman, James Earl Jones, and  Kevin Kline), she helps savvy executives in all industries enhance their credibility and generate business by speaking with poise, passion, and persuasive power.  Delighted clients include American Express, JPMorgan Chase, and Johnson & Johnson.  Maria travels extensively to deliver interactive and entertaining keynotes and workshops.  She can be reached at 718-884-2282 and; or visit


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